IN THE INTEREST OF A.A., D.A., and N.A., Minor Children, C.C., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Romonda D.
Belcher, District Associate Judge.
mother appeals the juvenile court order terminating her
parental rights to three children.
Davis, Des Moines, for appellant mother.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith L. Lamberti,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.
Stratton of Juvenile Public Defender's Office, Des
Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.
Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.
addiction has ravished this family. Three children-A.A.,
D.A., and N.A.-lost their father, Dustin, to a heroin
overdose in October 2017. Their mother, Courtnie, started
using Vicodin ten years ago and switched to illegal opioids
when her prescription expired. Courtnie continued to inject
heroin after Dustin's death. In September 2018, the
juvenile court terminated Courtnie's parental rights to
the three children. She challenges the court's ruling,
arguing termination was not in the children's best
interests and asking for an additional six months to
unresolved, severe, and chronic drug addiction can render a
parent unfit to raise children." In re A.B.,
815 N.W.2d 764, 776 (Iowa 2012). Unfortunately, this
proposition is true for Courtnie. Courtnie was incarcerated
at the time of the termination hearing, the children had been
out of her care for more than one year, and she had not been
able to stop using drugs outside the structured prison
setting. Like the juvenile court, we conclude delaying
permanency is not in the children's best interests.
drug abuse prompted the Iowa Department of Human Services
(DHS) to remove the children-then ages seven, three, and
one-in July 2017. The juvenile court adjudicated them as
children in need of assistance (CINA) in September 2017. Also
that fall, Courtnie completed substance-abuse and mental-
health assessments. She received diagnoses of a severe opioid
abuse disorder and severe panic disorder. Evaluators
recommended extended outpatient treatment, but Courtnie did
not complete a treatment program. Likewise, she did not
consistently attend visitation with the children.
death further shook the family. Courtnie testified telling
her children "their dad had passed away" was
"probably one of the hardest moments" she ever
faced as a parent. Courtnie acknowledged, "[A]fter
losing Dustin, my mental state wasn't great at all."
As evidence of that, she tested positive for illegal
substances in November and December 2017. And House of Mercy
staff asked her to leave when she admitted to using heroin at
the treatment center.
April 2018, Courtnie started serving a prison sentence on an
aggravated-misdemeanor theft conviction. The State filed its
petition to terminate parental rights in July 2018. Courtnie
was residing at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women
in Mitchellville and participated in the August hearing by
telephone. She testified she had not received substance-abuse
treatment at Mitchellville because of her relatively short
sentence but had been participating in Alcoholics Anonymous
and Narcotics Anonymous. In September, the juvenile court
issued its order terminating parental rights, relying on Iowa
Code subsections 232.116(1)(e), (f), (h) and (l)
appeal, Courtnie does not contest the statutory grounds for
termination. Instead, she argues severing the parental
relationship was not in the children's best interests.
See Iowa Code § 232.116(2) (framing best
interests as foremost the children's safety and their
best placement for furthering long-term nurturing and growth,
as well as attending to their physical, mental, and emotional
conditions and needs); see also In re P.L., 778
N.W.2d 33, 39 (Iowa 2010). She emphasizes the juvenile court
may refrain from terminating parental rights when clear and
convincing evidence shows termination would be detrimental to
the children due to the closeness of the parent-child
relationship. See Iowa Code § 232.116(3)(c).
And she asks for a six-month extension.
factors in section 232.116(3) allow the court to avoid
terminating parental rights, but they "are permissive,
not mandatory." In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 475
(Iowa 2018). In analyzing paragraph (c), "our
consideration must center on whether the child[ren] will be
disadvantaged by termination, and whether the disadvantage
overcomes [the ...